I can remember sitting behind the wheel of that car in my garage before it was even assembled and imagining I was Sir Stirling Moss driving a Ferrari 250 at Le Mans.
This experience, of being in a living time machine, is why I love classic cars.
Classic cars represent a touchstone to an earlier era, vehicles that, quite literally, allow me to honestly and completely experience what it was like for the people who owned, drove and raced these cars when they were new.
I can think of no other antiques that allow their owners to immerse themselves in the time period in which the object was built.
When you get behind the wheel of a 1965 Mustang GT350, you are able to relive the glory days of when that car was new. The car drives and, yes, rattles just like the it did in 1965. The car begs you to take it down to the local Sonic Drive-In and show it off to your friends — and then leave a 50-foot burnout as you leave.
Or lets say you have a thing for James Bond. Nothing lets you experience the idea of becoming 007 more than a drive in an Aston Martin DB5, especially if the car is Silver Birch in color. This legendary car will also be known to just about everyone as James Bond’s ride of choice and you will not be alone as others see you enjoying your four-wheeled fantasy.
The same thing holds true for full classics of the 1920s and ’30s. You get behind the wheel of a Packard or Duesenberg and imagine yourself as a captain of industry or a Roaring ‘20s movie star. Everything about the car works as it did then, giving a visceral experience to all your senses — smell, touch hearing, sight — of what that bygone era was all about.
If you are more interested in the American Graffiti era, there is no better way to feel closer than from behind the wheel of a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air fuelie. You may even find yourself searching for that elusive girl in the white Ford Tbird, and even as you’re doing something as mundane as driving to the grocery store.
This is not just limited to really old classic cars, either. Get behind the wheel of a 1975 Mercedes 450SL, put a Boz Skaggs cassette in the Becker Mexico radio, and you can imagine that you are a hot shot record producer in LA during the heyday of the music industry. Or how about the Ferrari 308 or Testarossa? There is no better way to experience the Magnum P.I. or Miami Vice lifestyle than behind the wheel of one of these iconic European exotics.
Move forward into the 1990s and in something like a Bentley Turbo R and I can easily imagine myself as a rich European socialite traveling to my country estate for the weekend to get away from the city.
The more I look at classic cars from the perspective of artifacts of living history, the more I enjoy them, whether on a trip to the gas station or a cross country rally.
One of my fondest memories was driving my 1972 Ferrari Daytona from northern Virginia to Monterey. While driving on the desolate roads of Montana and northern Nevada, I felt like I was taking a trip to Monaco for the weekend, mixed with bits of driving the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. It was a transforming experience, and one that was enabled by owning a classic car.
There was also the time that I decided to finally scratch my inner Simon Templar as The Saint itch and to buy a 1966 Volvo 1800S in California and drive it home. The idea was good but the car needed a bit more work than I expected. I ended up driving it home to where I was living in the Chicago area. I then did a complete restoration to bring the Volvo back to the way it was when new and ended up driving it back to Monterey for car week.
Every time I drove the Volvo 1800S I felt like I had become Roger Moore, living the 1960s experience as an international man of mystery. To complete the experience I even went so far as to improve my personal wardrobe that was better suit to the car. I no longer have the car but still own a number of bespoke British suits.
Classic cars represent tangible touchstones to the eras and that goes beyond such automotive aspects as technology and design, transporting us into bygone cultural experiences.
I know I have been waxing poetic about something that, at the end of the day, many people just think of as cars, and worse, as nothing more than old cars. But these are more than old cars, more than investments and more that just a way to feed owners’ egos. These are time travel devices with no equal.
The more I look at classic cars that way the more I enjoy my time with them and the more fun I have with them.
So the next time you take your classic out for a drive, forget what the car is worth or the 20-odd things that you have left to do to it. Instead, consider dressing up in period clothes that fit the car’s original era. And listen to period music as well.